Archives for posts with tag: Rome

Everyone in our family loves cities. We love the thrill of discovery that comes from turning a corner and seeing a beautiful building or a bustling restaurant, and the excitement that comes from so many people all together.

Not everyone in our family loves nature. But Nell and I do. My biggest worry about living in a sprawling city this year was whether I’d still see trees and hear birds (absolutely yes on the trees – we have them growing on our roof and dominating the skyline – and definitely yes on the birds– there is a flock of seagulls that lives in our neighborhood, and if you sit on our terrace and just listen, you’d think you were at the beach).

But sometimes, Nell and I need more nature than we get from our Roman neighborhood’s flora and fauna.

Fortunately, the city is packed with parks that range from sculpted to wild. One recent Sunday, we set off to explore the famous Rome rose garden. The garden is at the base of the Aventino hill, just across from the Forum and Palatine Hill on the far side of the Circo Massimo.

Originally, this land was the Jewish cemetery, and the lanes are laid out in the shape of a menorah. The garden has a very short season given the heat, but it is spectacular, with over 1,000 varieties to see. It was too hot for Nell to sketch, but she took photo after photo of roses to draw at home.

Afterwards, we climbed the Aventino to picnic in the Giardino degli Aranci (Garden of the Oranges). The layout of this park is very unusual. In the center is a big grove of orange trees, whose fruit perfumes the air. Surrounding them are my favorite Roman umbrella pines, which shade the walkways. And at the far end is a terrace overlooking a spectacular view of the city. We ate the fresh sweet cherries that are at the peak of their season and enjoyed the scented air and views.

A few blocks away is a somewhat obscure but very cool tourist sight, the keyhole of the knights of Malta. There’s a doorway in a high wall that holds a keyhole that offers a rather amazing view over the property of three sovereign powers (Italy, Malta, and the Vatican), directly onto St. Peter’s Cathedral a few kilometers away.

While we could have still taken in more nature, a more urgent destination beckoned: the Il Gelato outpost on Viale Aventino. Roses are red (sometimes), and oranges are orange, but there’s nothing like gelato after a long hot walk!

– Jenny

Me and my friends waiting for the game to start. I am number 9.

I play soccer with my school team, that is made up of some 5th graders, 4th graders, and 3rd graders. We practice Mondays and Thursdays after school.  There is about 36 kids on my team. My coach is named Mr. Hough. He is also a 4th grade teacher.

Me, Sam, Nikos, and Loet, waiting between games.

Soccer in Rome is much different than soccer in the States. For example, people play much more rough, and we do not wear shin guards. On my first day of school, the first person to be nice to me was named Charlie (who is from Australia). He told me to never play soccer at recess because kids have broken bones on the soccer pitch. At the beginning of school, I was a bit nervous because kids played much rougher than at home and also all the kids speak only Italian when playing soccer.

Me, Sam, and Nikos.

But I really wanted to play, so after the first week or two, I just started playing. It was weird to see how many shots that seemed impossible the kids tried to make. It turns out that I did get hurt a few times playing soccer at recess, but it was still really fun. I ended up making friends with a lot of kids that I really like now because of playing soccer. Plus I learned how to say a lot of things in Italian (that I can’t write about here because they are inappropriate). A couple of times a month, our coach comes on the pitch to play with us at recess.

Our team jerseys have long sleeves, maybe because the Romans always think it’s cold even when it’s hot.

In Madison, everyone gets to play in games and the coaches give each kid an equal amount of time on the field, whether you are a better or worse player. But they do not do that in Italy. Here, the coach invites only a few kids on the team to actually play in a tournament. The coach only picks the not bad players to play in games, and before the game you are told if you are a substitute player or starting.

My team.

At the beginning of the year, I didn’t ever think about really going to play in a tournament because there are too many good players in Italy. But I still really liked going to the practices. I was SUPER happy when Mr. Hough invited me to play in a tournament. But it was cancelled due to snow. Then I got invited to be in another tournament and that is what I am going to talk about here. I have never played on a school team before.

Right after I scored my goal, with Nikos and Andrew.

Two things surprised me. First, I got to play on the 5th grade team. And second, I scored a goal. I never thought that I would score a goal in a tournament in Italy. I feel like I will always remember this; it was one of the specialist moments of my life.

Only three other 4th graders got onto the 5th grade team. All of them are really good friends of mine. They are Nikos, Andrew, and Victor. My friend Nikos assisted my goal. The best players on my team were Hans and Fillipo and Jacopo. Originally, the coach told me that I was going to the tournament as a sub. But when the game started I was sent in as l’attaccante which means striker. I think in Madison we would call it center forward. That is my favorite position to play.

Waiting to hear the places.

Our team made it through the quarter-finals, semi-finals and made it all the way to the finals. But then we lost in the finals. We got second place in the all-city international schools tournament and we got a trophy. Fillipo got to take the trophy home, because he is the team captain.

Getting our trophy, which was filled with candy.

One of the greatest things was celebrating the victories after our games. We all ran around the pitch shouting in victory and patting each other on the backs and stuff like that.

In the end, it was one of the greatest days of my year in Rome.

– Eli

Two years ago, we made a family trip to Rome to check out possible schools for the children, give them a concrete sense of where we would be moving, and explore potential neighborhoods to look for apartments. We had absolutely no sense of where we were going as we traversed the city. As we stood on street corners trying to GoogleMap our way around, I complicated matters by insisting that we avoid—at all costs—walking through Piazza Venezia. I had taken an instant dislike to it.

Despite its renown, many first-time visitors find Rome off-putting. Compared to Florence or Venice, it can feel too crowded, too clamorous, too dirty, too chaotic, too confusing. And if there was ever a location this might ring especially true, it is Piazza Venezia. Piazza Venezia is the geographic heart in the center of Rome, almost like a bull’s-eye. The piazza is named for the Palazzo Venezia, which was the foreign embassy of the Venetians and then the headquarters of Benito Mussolini.

The historic center of Rome has some other open urban spaces, such as Piazza Navona, the Spanish Steps, and St. Peter’s Square. These, too, are not my favorite parts of the city. But at least they retain some Baroque charm. In contrast, Piazza Venezia just feels chaotic to me– thousands of cars, buses, and motorcycles constantly wrapping around the circle doesn’t help. Neither do throngs of tourists stepping far away from their beloved to take photos that include lots of backdrop, thereby forcing everyone else to have to walk off the sidewalk and into the imposing traffic to pass by. There are hawkers selling plastic replicas of the Colosseum, or cans of coke for five dollars, or cheap scarves. The area is also a major bus transfer point. It’s a Roman maelstrom.

There’s still a lot there that I adore. For example, Michelangelo’s work on the Campidoglio is fantastic, unveiling a spectacular city view on top that is—surprisingly for its time—secular. There are no Christian religious elements among all of the highly decorative statuary. And rather than have each new building make its own “statement,” Michelangelo created buildings that fit with their surroundings. This idea, I have learned, was revolutionary. Up until that time, Renaissance architecture had been about single, isolated buildings—the aim was to display each individual building to its maximum advantage, not to create an aesthetically unified whole with the surrounding buildings. Michelangelo’s concept here of creating a unified outdoor space was utterly new, and it is beautiful, and it changed the way we think about how neighborhoods should look.

Unfortunately, a huge marble pile erected in 1911 now blocks the view of the Campidoglio and blatantly violates the very principle that Michelangelo championed. This one building is the singular source of my intense dislike of Piazza Venezia. The culprit is the Victor Emmanuel Monument. I’m not alone in my vitriol. This monstrous neoclassical building is widely– and deservedly– reviled. Locals call it “the Wedding Cake.” This is because it looks like it has been slathered with sugary frosting and should have giant plastic matrimonial figurines stuck on top.

The Wedding Cake in the center of the piazza was built to celebrate Italy’s unification and was named after the nation’s first king. Though it took forty years to build, it is lamentable. I won’t hold back here to make it perfectly clear how I really feel: it is an architectural calamity.

The monument is pompous, overblown, oversized. I wish I could put it in PhotoShop, crop it, and reduce the image by 70%. To add insult to injury, it is made from an antiseptic looking, stark, white marble that heavy-handedly grabs all of one’s visual attention. In the midst of all of this bulk and superfluous decoration is also the grave of Italy’s Unknown Soldier, attended by two live guards. Yet the grave is practically invisible amid the welter of visual distraction. So any simple, moving, or subtle message is drowned out. It is like a huge, artificial mountain was dropped in the center of this beautiful city. It reminds me of a puffy, cheap taffeta wedding dress purchased from a tacky discount outlet. There is no charm or grace, only volume.

So I always avoided walking through this piazza, just to prevent this hideous building from bearing down upon me. I did not like the way it distracted me from what I love to look at in this city. Seeing it was enough to sour my mood.

But over this year, something changed.

Like an annoying colleague who talks too much, but can also be counted on to express something at a meeting that needs to be said, I realized how helpful the Wedding Cake could be. It has become an immensely useful and reliable orienting device. I can climb any hill, turn any corner, get lost in any labyrinth, and it comes into view, marking the heart of the city. The Wedding Cake has helped me find my way home many times. It has guided my explorations to unknown neighborhoods. Now, when I venture to a less familiar part of the city, I find myself looking for the Wedding Cake to give me a sense of where I am relative to the center. When I’ve hiked up some ridge or climbed some tower or castle to take in a panoramic view, the Wedding Cake is always there when I emerge on top, like a “You Are Here” pin on a map, helping me to place other landmarks. Often, en route somewhere, I glance up at it to ensure that I’m generally heading in the right direction. And I have to admit: it is comforting. I never feel lost amidst the narrow winding streets and unexpected hills of Rome as long as I can see the Wedding Cake somewhere in the distance.

Now I am willing to yield a little and acknowledge that the monument works better at night. Maybe it comes across more as its builders had intended? The bright white behemoth is flooded with spotlights and is transformed into something that looks grand. Against the black sky, the massive hunk of white and glimmering gold becomes an extravaganza. It is no longer architecture, but theater.

These days I think of the Wedding Cake as the hub of a wheel, around which the rest of the Eternal City continually whirls.

Dare I say it? I think I’ll miss seeing it every day.

— Seth

They all have a fantastic time!

Our final visitors for the year were our Madison friends and colleagues Trish and Melanie. We credit them with introducing us (especially the kids) to the joys of cheesehead-dom. So we were especially happy to host them on their first trip to Italy.

At Ponte Milvio

One event that we missed during our year away was Trish and Melanie’s wedding. Last August, on the weekend of their wedding, we happened to be exploring a part of Rome dominated by a bridge, Ponte Milvio. There is a tradition that newlywed and otherwise hardily coupled pairs bring locks to Ponte Milvio, sign or carve their names on the locks, and attach them to the bridge to symbolize permanent love. They can then toss the keys into the river if they really feel committed!

With their very own lock.

So on Trish and Melanie’s first day in Rome, we gave them our (belated) wedding present – a walk to Ponte Milvio and a lock to attach to the bridge. They are brave souls, and threw away the key. As I wouldn’t recommend diving into the Tiber river (yuck), I guess their marriage has to last.

Siena and the Tuscan vista.

Another highlight of their visit was a trip to Siena. This city was one that I particularly wanted to visit, and we thought it would be fun for our visitors to get to see a very different side of Italy: from the bustling ancient city of Rome to the picture-perfect medieval city of Siena. And picture-perfect it was! My kids tease me for my obsession with beautiful views, and Tuscany really does take the cake; Seth calls it Disneyland for grownups. Accurate, given the incredible wine paired with the views.

Breakfast room and terrace at our lovely hotel.

We stayed in a fabulous little hotel – just 6 rooms – called the Campo Regio Relais; I think it might have been my favorite hotel of the year, in large part because of, yes, the view. It has a little terrace overlooking the city where breakfast is served, and our bedroom had the same view. It was so pretty that it was hard to believe it was real.

Now that’s a breakfast nook!

Our time in Siena was largely spent wandering the little streets and exploring back alleys, and, of course, climbing towers. And we ate surprisingly well. We’d heard that the food in Siena was generally not so great by Italian standards (especially compared to other cities we’ve visited recently such as Bologna …mmm…), so we really did our homework.

Both kids sporting the local team jersey.

Our two favorite meals were our Friday dinner and Saturday lunch. Friday dinner was at a little place called, simply, Osteria (which means wine bar; Via dei Rossi 79/81). No web site, no frills. But the food was excellent, the local wine among the best we’ve had, and we loved the relaxed atmosphere. And unlike other places we saw in Siena, no tourists.

Lunch the next day was at Ristorante Castelvecchio (Via Castelvecchio 65), outside the center, which I chose because it was one of the few restaurants I read about that specialized in non-meat dishes. We loved it! The room was fancier than the other restaurants we tried (cloth tablecloths), and we were the only table eating, but the food was perfect and a bit creative.

Seafood feast in Ostia.

On Trish and Melanie’s last day, we joined a tour of Ostia Antica that was organized by a local guide/ historian/ artist/ archeologist/ architect/ you name it. Nancy de Conciliius is legendary amongst local Anglophones for her biweekly tours of Rome neighborhoods and landmarks – and if you’re ever visiting Rome in the spring or fall on a Monday or Tuesday, join her tour regardless of her destination; it’s always fascinating. We felt privileged to be able to explore this ancient town just outside Rome with her. Afterwards, the four of us lunched on piles of local seafood (Ostia is by the ocean) at Il Monumento, and reflected on how glad we were to have shared time in Italy together.

It was strange saying goodbye to our last set of guests. We’ve had more visitors in Rome this year than in 15 years living in Madison. Now, we are hoping that some of our friends from Rome will make their way to visit us in the land of the cheeseheads.

– Jenny

My friend Eliza came to visit me in Rome. I had been looking forward to this visit for about 3 months. We did a lot of fun things together, and her visit went by very quickly for me.

Piazza di Spagna

Eliza and her sister Hope and mom Emily arrived on late on Thursday, at about 9:00. When she first came, we were very happy to see each other, so we practically just laughed the whole night.

On Friday we showed Eliza and her family Piazza de Spagna (the Spanish Steps) and the Pantheon. If you haven’t been to Rome, in the Pantheon there is a big hole in the middle of the roof. And what I did to Eliza and Hope is I made them keep their eyes shut until they could see the hole. Then we went to my favorite non-pizza restaurant for lunch, which I’ve probably mentioned a few times: da Gino. I have probably mentioned that my favorite waiter, Mario, works there.

Inside the Pantheon.

After lunch I showed them a museum called Trajan’s Market. It is a place where there used to be a real market in Ancient Rome, and you can see the market stall rooms and sometimes they have glass floors where you can see down where Rome used to be. Me, Eliza, and her sister Hope played tag except you had to wrap a scarf around your eyes so you couldn’t see, and you had to stay in a particular room in the ancient market.

After that, since they wanted to see the statue of Romulus and Remus, we went to the Campodiglio to show it to them. It’s a piazza that Michelangelo designed. Hope really liked the Campodiglio because she’s into horses and there were lots of statues of horses. Then we went home and played… Later, we went to our favorite gelato place which I’ve mentioned a few times: Il Gelato.

Inside the caves, looking toward the town of Sperlonga.

Next, on Saturday, we took a train to Sperlonga, which is a beach town a little south of Rome. First we went to explore caves that were by the ruins of the palace of Emperor Tiberius. The ancient Romans used to throw parties in the caves, and the museum has huge statues that were discovered in the caves.

After the caves we went to the beach. And we (the kids) went deep in the water and jumped over the waves. They were so big that sometimes we fell down. And when there was a ginormous wave coming we all ran back to the beach. We did that all day and when we went back on the train, we were all very worn out.

Relaxing on the beach.

Then for dinner that night, we went to one of me and my brother’s favorite restaurants, dal Pollarolo 1936. We like it because it has everything. They are named for their chicken, because pollo means chicken and they used to be a chicken store (since 1936). They have good salads, great pizzas, and great pasta dishes. When we got home the kids watched a little of the movie Parent Trap (the old version). After that, me and Eliza read for a while. Then our parents let us talk for a while. Then they said to stop talking. But we talked until about 2 in the morning!

At da Cesare.

On Sunday it rained. But before it rained we played on the terrace with this kind of stuffed animals I like to collect. They are called Beanie Boos. Then it started to rain so we went inside. Me and Eliza just wanted to play that day so we played until about 1:00, and then we headed out for lunch at da Cesere, another restaurant with a waiter who is nice to kids. After lunch we just played and had dinner at our house.

With Ambassador Thorne. His office was beautiful!

Monday was one of my favorite days of Eliza’s visit. We went to the American Embassy. And we got to meet the Ambassador – he gave us a tour and we went in his office. Eliza’s grandpa is friends with Ambassador Thorne. We got to hold a real gladiator helmet and real sword and shield. He gave us special coins as a souvenir. Then we went for lunch at another great restaurant, San Marco (which is known for their pizza). After that, while we were walking home, we passed a bakery/gelateria. Eliza got mint chip, I got chocolate orange, and Hope got two meringues. As we were going home, we stopped at our favorite pasta shop which makes pasta fresh (if you have been to Rome before you know what I mean). The lady who works there let us go behind the counter to see the pasta machine. After that we went home and played.

Next morning, Eliza left. I miss her but I’m glad I’ll see her soon. That goes for all of my friends in Madison!

-Nell

I feel a bit ashamed that I’m actually posting this blog entry because it is so hypocritical. But since this blog is meant to chronicle our year, I want to document the bad along with the good.

Here’s the backdrop: we’ve been lamenting the fact that we have only one year to spend in Rome. When asked, our conversational tag line has been that we miss our friends and life back home and we’ve never considered not returning to Madison. But one year isn’t enough and we wish we could have two or three years here before leaving. This is, in part, because Rome is so incredibly seasonal.  We’ve learned so much having spent a year here that we want to do it again and know what to expect. And of course, for us, this is largely based upon food. All of us have discovered some classic dishes and foods that are only available at certain times of the year. Although nearly anything could be available frozen, no self-respecting trattoria would offer dishes out of season. . .and very little is frozen here. When the puntarelle is gone, it’s gone. Same with the artichoke Romana, the special Roman broccoli, the peach gelato. . . there are so many things that I would have eaten more of knowing that they would go away so soon!

This was the main reason that I wanted another round here. But now I have another reason.

Having lived through it, I now realize that I didn’t appreciate the calm of November and February. When we first arrived last Summer, our heads were spinning with novelty and by the time we began to settle in the Fall, we couldn’t tell that the city—as well as our heads—was beginning to calm. But starting at around Easter time, the tourists began flooding the city, and. . .okay, let me just get it out there: I’m feeling so irritated.

I didn’t realize how good I had it here in the off season and how quickly the city would change.

After mid-September, when the summer tourists left, Rome felt gorgeous, pleasant, and familiar. November was amazing. Reputed to be the city’s rainy month, we actually had very few wet days and warm sunny weather. Reservations were easily scored at any restaurant, theatre tickets available at the last minute, there was space on the sidewalks. . .still no seats on the metro, but one can’t have everything. As expected, things got a little worse in December, with winter school breaks and family holidays, but it still wasn’t that bad or inconvenient and the holiday lights around the city were festive. What I didn’t fully appreciate was how amazing February was. It felt like we had the city to ourselves, easily navigating the narrow streets, clear views of anything that caught our gaze, unfatigued waiters, few lines at museums. Foolishly, I attended to the (relative) cold and the rain. How myopic! If only I had realized what Spring would bring.

Last week, I was nearly late picking the children up from school bus. I’ve been following the same route all year, but it now takes me about twenty minutes longer. On Friday, I stopped no less than 27 (!!!) times to allow someone to block the sidewalk and take a picture of their beloved in front of something. We now have to factor in extra time to dodge around the couples who have stopped mid-street to consult their maps. Today, at some points, more people were standing still on the sidewalk trying to figure out where to go than actually walking. Yesterday I caught snippets of three women berating their husbands for not asking directions (okay, I’ll admit that I smiled when I overheard “Gerald, I’m sure they all speak English. . .”). I’m now often getting caught behind large packs of tour groups wearing earpieces and following guides who are waving flags. The French groups seem to like to spread out and disperse, so I dodge between them, whereas the Japanese groups like to stay tightly packed together, so I have to squeeze around the outside. I went to a bakery today in Campo dei Fiori and realized that I heard not a single person speaking Italian.

The weather here has been spectacularly gorgeous, but sometimes I want my cold, wet Rome back. Ordinarily, this isn’t the type of thing I’d say out loud. Except today at the bus stop, as I arrived again feeling flustered from navigating through the crowds, another parent validated my experience. I asked one of the moms at the bus stop what her family was doing for the children’s Spring Break next week. And she told me that her family always tries to leave Rome for this school holiday because it is so overwhelming when the Spring tourists begin arriving and it is hard to transition to the crowds.

Indeed! Spring Break hits in never-ceasing waves. For Americans, the breaks start early, some as soon as the beginning of March. Then other European countries have their school closings. The school holiday is late here, with our children not having Spring Break until early May. And then the summer visitors will begin arriving.

But I temper my feelings of encroachment with two thoughts.

First, I remember that we were those people blocking the sidewalks just a few months ago. We couldn’t walk down a street without pulling out our camera. And we missed much of our surroundings because our noses were glued to maps and iPhones as we tried to gain our bearings. And when we are not in Rome this year, we’ve been tourists in other people’s neighborhoods.

Second, bless these wonderful tourists! Rome has been a tourist destination since the Middle Ages. We live at the old north gate to the city, where pilgrims would arrive, and for hundreds of years there have been churches, hospitals, and hotels in our neighborhood to greet them. I’m so appreciative that people have the curiosity and interest to visit this fantastic city, where so much of our present day civilization was first realized. These tourists fuel the economy and support the community here in every way (each night someone stays at a hotel here, 1.5 Euros go to helping preserve and restore the city’s wondrous ruins).

I’ve never before lived in a city that depended so heavily on tourism—and it is enlightening.  It just takes some getting used to. These days, I’m trying to navigate through crowded streets to pick up my dry cleaning or groceries, get to the gym, or pick up the children. But the clicks of the cameras are a great reminder to stop and look up, because almost anywhere in this eternal city, my eye will catch something that makes me think: “wow.” Who wouldn’t want a photo to chronicle a journey here?

I bet for our next visit to Rome, we’ll travel in flagrant violation of school holidays and aim for the off-season, favoring peaceful city streets over warmer weather. In the meantime, like our fellow Romans, we are leaving. We’ll spent our Spring Break in Barcelona, where we will block the sidewalks of the locals there—and probably ask them for directions, in English.

— Seth

Sadie and Nell.

Life has been a flurry of activity in recent weeks. Spring has definitely sprung, with summer heat and sun alternating with much-needed rain. I didn’t expect sunburn in late April, but I’m not complaining.

Eli and Solomon.

Before we left to spend the children’s spring break in Spain, we enjoyed two visits from Madison friends and colleagues! Our first visitors were our family friends Sara, Scott, Sadie, and Solomon, followed by one of the first friends we made in Madison, our colleague Diane.

S, S, S, & S are currently on sabbatical in Paris; I had the pleasure of hanging out with them on a work trip to Paris earlier this winter. They bravely decided to drive from Paris to Rome with their two small kids, stopping and tasting wine on several overnight stays along their way. We had a great time reconnecting with them and marveling over how much their kids had grown since we last saw them over the summer. Our kids enjoyed teaching their kids a little Italian and learning some French in return.

Check out the stars on the floor of the Sistine Chapel!

We took an unusual tour of the Vatican museums together, using a tour-guide from Jewish Roma. She has given tours to visitors of all stripes, apparently often working as a guide for cardinals visiting Rome. The highlight of the visit was learning the Jewish history underlying Michelangelo’s vision of the Sistine Chapel and his pointed and sly criticism of the papacy. It turns out that there is Jewish iconography all over the place, including Stars of David in the floor. Who knew?

Diane still going strong after 8 hours of walking Rome.

Within hours of their departure en route back to France, Diane arrived from Florence, where she was attending a conference. It was Diane’s first trip to Italy, and she’s hooked! Because she was only here for one full day, Seth gave her a whirlwind tour of Rome (two thousand years in four hours), culminating in a visit to the Cat Sanctuary at Largo Argentina – a must for any cat lover. If she could have, Diane would have adopted every cat there.

It’s been wonderful being able to share Rome with our Madison friends, and knowing that when we get home, they will be able to share some of our memories of Italy with us!

 

-Jenny

Gaby enjoying fresh OJ (spremuta) made with Sicilian blood oranges.

Last week, two families of friends from Madison, Wisconsin, came to visit us. One family was Ruth and Gaby, who arrived on a Wednesday. And the second family was Stacy, Jonathan, Zach, and Samantha, who arrived on Saturday.

For the first two nights that Gaby was here, Eli was on an overnight field trip with his class. You can read his blog post about it. This is what we did the first two days that Gaby came to visit. The first night, we made dinner for Ruth and Gaby on the terrace, and then brought them to one of our favorite gelato places, named Il Gelato. That means: “The Gelato”. Then the next day, I went to school, and my mom and dad gave Ruth and Gaby a tour to the Pantheon, Campo de’ Fiori, and they took them to Alberto Pica for more gelato. That night, we took them to a restaurant called Orso 80, where what most food writers say is you should just order their appetizers (antipasti) for the meal. Here are some things they brought: cauliflower, zucchini, beans with a red sauce, potatoes, the best melon in the world, roasted peppers, fresh mozzarella, and a plate with celery marinated with cubes of parmigiano cheese. For dessert, me and Gaby had fresh frutti di bosco (which means fruits of the forest, like raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries).

Outside Il Gelato with everyone.

The next day, I stayed home because I was sick. My mom took Ruth and Gaby to see the Colosseum, the Palatine Hill, and the Forum. Then later that day, Eli came home from his school trip. That night, Eli, Gaby, Ruth, and Dad went to a restaurant called Dal Pollarolo 1936 in our neighborhood. It’s one of Eli’s favorite restaurants because it has both good pizza, good pasta, and good roasted chicken, and it’s been there since 1936. I had to stay home and my mom offered to stay home with me.

Can you find us in the crowd at the Spanish Steps?

The next day, Samantha, Zach, Jonathan, and Stacy arrived in the morning. We served them a huge lunch on the terrace. My dad was slaving in the kitchen to prepare the lunch. Then after lunch we went to Il Gelato (again), because we like to always take our visitors there for their first gelato in Rome. Then we walked to the Spanish Steps and did a Where’s Waldo photo with all the tourists in the background. Then we went to the Villa Borghese, a huge park at the top of the Spanish Steps. We watched the rollerbladers do tricks. Then we went home for a few reasons.

The rollerblader went under the rope on the right doing a split. You can see us gasping while we watch.

For dinner that night, we went to this place called Baffetto 2. It’s known for its AMAZING pizza. In Italy, when they bring you your pizza they don’t cut it. So the grownups were all rushing around helping us cut our pizzas and some waiters helped us, too.

At the Sicilian restaurant.

The next day, Sunday, Ruth and Gaby took a train to Florence. And we took S, J, Z, and S to a Sicilian restaurant that is OUT OF THIS WORLD. And when I say out of this world, I really mean it. After we finished our lunch at the Sicilian place, we went to the Cat Sanctuary at Largo Argentina, because we thought Samantha would like to see cats because she LOVES animals. And seriously, she really loves animals. In the cat sanctuary, we saw a blind cat. All the cats wander around in the Roman ruins. They are free to go wherever they want. That night we had the best pasta from the fresh pasta store with the best pesto sauce for dinner at our house.

A few of the hundreds of cats at the Largo Argentina cat sanctuary.

On Monday, it turned out I had an ear infection so I had to stay home, again. My dad stayed home with me. My mom took our guests to join a tour in the Jewish Ghetto. The Roman Jews have a very old and very interesting history and culture, and they got to hear all about the tour-guide’s own family and how they survived World War 2. They then had lunch at a famous Roman Jewish restaurant called Sora Margerita, where they got to try Roman fried artichokes; Gaby particularly loved them. They had gelato at Alberto Pica. Zachary loves coffee and he really liked the coffee gelato.

More gelato, anyone?

When they all got home, Gaby and Ruth got ready to leave Rome which was sad for us. Then that night, our parents all went out to dinner at Al Duello, which is one of their favorite restaurants. We had a sitter that was a student. Her name is Jordan. My dad made a special pasta for our dinner that was a Lecce recipe. It was basically really good pasta with tomatoes that were kind of smooshed, just like in Puglia. We had fresh strawberries that are in season here.

Boys in front of a great bakery, Forno Campo de' Fiori

On Tuesday, finally I went to school. Our visitors went to see the Forum and Coloseum and Palatine Hill and Circo Massimo. Right when I got home from school, they got home and we went to a Sicilian gelato place in our neighborhood. There were two flavors that everyone really liked. One was chocolate orange and one was After Eight, which was mint ice cream with chunks of chocolate.  When we got home the kids [Samantha, Zach, Eli, and I] were practicing for doing a show for everybody. It was an improv comedy show, with jokes, dancing, singing, and everything.

On Wednesday and Thursday we took the train to see Bologna, which we will tell about in one of the next blog posts.

Stacy and Jonathan enjoying the pizza a taglio at Roscioli.

Friday was our friends’ last day in Rome. Luckily it was Easter break so we could have the day with them. We called it Stacy’s Day of Desserts because Stacy had missed dessert two nights in a row and was having her last day in Rome.  In the morning, we strolled to a bakery and then a coffee place and then an ice cream place and a chocolate place, and then another bakery. We all tried a little bit of everything. For lunch, we went to the best pizza rosso and pizza bianca place in rome: Roscioli. We ate standing up at the counter. We tried to have gelato at a new Sicilian bakery but their freezer was broken, so we had gelato at the Gelateria de la Teatro which was excellent. Then we met up with another family. There was a 15 year old girl, Aliza, and there was an 11 year old boy named Zach. They live in Princeton, and my mom knows their mom from work. They were on vacation in Rome. We played soccer all together in the Villa Borghese park. Unfortunately a soccer ball hit my face but otherwise it was fun.

Girls out on the town.

That night, for our friends’ last dinner in Rome, we went to our favorite non-pizza place in Rome: da Gino. Unfortunately, the nicest waiter in the whole world, who we have every single time we went to da Gino, apparently only works for lunch now. But still the food was good. Me and Samantha had the exact same dinner. First we shared a caprese salad, which is tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Then we both had this good dish called cacio e pepe, which is a long pasta with cheese sauce and pepper, and for dessert we both had mousse al cioccolato, which is a chocolate mousse.

And Samantha and I wore matching scarves, a slightly different color but the same design.

On Saturday we said goodbye to each other and they left. It was a pleasure for both families to stay and I’m looking forward to seeing them again in Madison, and all of you too.

– Nell (and a little help from Jenny)

So just let me get this clear- this was one of the best afternoons of my year.

There are two soccer clubs in Rome. One called SS Lazio and one called Associazione Sportiva (A.S.) Roma. I like AS Roma. A derby match is when two teams own the same field and they play each other on it. So it is also a rival match. These two teams are very good. And it is a big deal when they play each other. Everyone in Rome is a fan of one of these teams or the other and soccer is really important here.

Mosaics at the Olympic Stadium

Roma is the team representing the city and Lazio is the team representing the region, and the rivalry is intense! Whenever I wear my Roma jersey people always come up to me to either cheer for Roma or to tell me that Lazio is better. Kids at school are also really into one of the two teams. When you meet someone new you can ask which team they prefer: “laziale o romanista?”

The Roma colors are yellow, orange, and red and their symbol is the she-wolf that raised Romulus and Remus. The Lazio colors are light blue and white and their symbol is the eagle. Lazio is older but Roma has more supporters. The Roma team’s captain is Francesco Totti, whose kids also go to my school. Lazio is supposed to be more upper-class so we call them the facist team. Roma is the more popular team of the city people.

Just before the game starts

The derby is one of the biggest events of the year, when the two teams fight it out at the Olympic Stadium. It is fun because team spirit is really strong here- it is a lot like Packers fans in Madison.

Some how, some way, my mom got us tickets to the game. She went to the AS Roma Store at Piazza Colonna where they sell tickets. But after she waited on line for a long time, she got to the window and found out that she needed IDs for each of us to buy the tickets. So she had to run home and get all of our passports and then go back. But they still had tickets and she got us good seats. Our names were printed on each ticket and we were not allowed to give them to anyone else (not that I ever would).

FOUR DAYS LATER: we have just finished lunch and I am getting dressed for the real game. I already have my Roma pants and jersey and jacket. Nell already has her Roma jersey and I let her wear my hat and other Roma jacket. Even Mom and Dad bought the right shirts to wear. ONE HOUR LATER: we are at the stadium.

Nell and Mom at the Derby

Roma and Lazio play at the Olympic Stadium. To get into the game we had to go through three different security checks. At the first one, they checked our passports and we walked past lines of policemen wearing their riot gear. They have to be ready because sometimes the fans get crazy. Winston Churchill said that Italians treat wars like soccer matches and soccer matches like wars.

As we were walking into the Olympic Stadium we saw that the ground was covered with mosaics. I thought they looked very cool. They showed ancient Greek Olympic events. A friend of Hitler’s, Mussolini, had his name carved into a lot of the mosaics.

NOW: we are in our seats and everyone is screaming like crazy and singing. There are a lot of fan songs that the crowd knows. So they all sing together and the Roma side is trying to sing louder than the Lazio side. The stadium was filled with team colors, giant flags, banners, and smoke candles. Even if you weren’t really interested in soccer, this is an interesting experience. But if you do like soccer, like me and Nell, it is awesome.

Curva Sud

The one problem was that everyone around us was smoking. Everyone. Nell and I pulled our shirts over our nose and mouths. Then the teams started coming out. We saw them practice heading, shooting, and passing. Soon it was time for the game to start.

There is a section where the really intense fans sit. The intense Roma fans sit in the “Curva Sud,” and the intense Lazio fans sit in the “Curva Nord”. You wouldn’t believe how loud and crazy these sections were. We sat in special seats in the middle of the stadium that are better for kids. They started throwing firecrackers onto the field. During the entire game, they had firemen on the field wearing protective clothing who picked up the lit firecrackers and dropped them in a water bucket.

The game started by having a sing-off between the fans on either side of the stadium. Everyone either held up their scarves or bought big flags to wave with their team colors. Below we have posted a link to a video my mom took of the singing. At the start of the video you can hear the Lazio fans singing. Then the Roma song starts up. You can hear the Lazio fans booing in the background during the Roma song.

http://vimeo.com/38120357

Also in the intense fan section people released red smoke bombs, the color of Roma. It was louder than anything you have ever heard before- not only the yelling, and the cannons exploding though the game, but all the songs that fans kept singing together during the game.

smoke bombs from Curva Sud

Then the game started. It got off to a pretty tense start for the Roma fans because right away our goalie got red-carded and Lazio scored on a penalty shot. But soon enough we came back and scored. Then at minute 60 they scored again and that is how it went until the end of the match.

The other side's fans on Curva Nord

As we were leaving, we passed all the army guards and police that we passed walking in.

I loved it because I got to do something that most fans dream of doing.  And it was just fun altogether.

— Eli

In front of the Casina di Raffaelo

I have wanted to write about the second part of my birthday. I would have written sooner but I have been busy at school.

My birthday party was at a park called Villa Borghese, which is near our house, and it’s a huge park. And there is a little museum in that park called Casina di Raffaello. And that is where I had my birthday party. It has a playground and there are books everywhere. Upstairs there is a party room.

My birthday cake- chocolate with chocolate frosting and a layer of chocolate inside.

I designed my own cake on a piece of paper. Then I brought the design to a café near our house that makes their own amazing stuff like cornetti and cakes and cookies. And they baked it. The cake was huge. I wanted it to be all chocolate with a flower on the top made out of fruit. It was so beautiful. And the cake was delicious- especially the chocolate ganache that they put in the middle, which tasted like melty dark chocolate ice cream. My friends loved it and we hardly had any left after the party even though it was huge. And we had to walk to the park with the cake and all the things for the party.

Now that we have been to a bunch of birthday parties in Rome, we knew what we were doing. Here, everyone arrives at the party a few hours after it is supposed to start and then all the parents stay a few hours after the party is supposed to end. So on my invitation, we asked people to come on time so that we could start the art activities on time. One friend arrived an hour late, but everyone else basically only came a half hour late.

Party snacks and treats from Maria. The orange soda comes in both regular and blood orange flavors.

And my parents brought lots of food for the other parents. My dad brought bottles of prosecco. And our super nice housekeeper wanted to bake me some things for my birthday- she made all of these trays of food. So there was a lot to eat and drink when the grown ups came after the party to get their kids.

A game at the start of the party.

My dad’s favorite part of my birthday party was that when he was walking through the park with the cake on the way to my party, strangers came up, held his arm, and said “Auguri, auguri!” which means congratulations. They were all congratulating him because it was his child’s birthday. People made a big deal about kid birthdays here and they always congratulate the kids’ parents!

A view of some of the horses from the party room.

There were animals all over the place right in front of the building, mostly horses, dogs, and cats. It was a Catholic celebration where a priest gave a special prayer for animals.

Learning about the illustrations (in Italian; the bilingual kids helped translate).

When we arrived to the little museum where I had my birthday, a woman greeted us. Her name was Grazie. She was the person in charge of my birthday party and was really nice.

Creating our illustrations. The art room was very fancy.

I stayed near the entrance so I could see when people arrived. After everyone arrived we went upstairs to where there was a party room.

Here’s what we did. First we played games. Then we had snacks. Maria (the person who cleans our apartment) made these special treats for my birthday. And the museum brought little sandwiches and mini pizzas that were great.

Then we looked at an exhibit of illustrated children’s books from artists around the world. Then my friends and I went to an art room and everyone got to make their own illustrated book. Then we ate the cake. My friends sang happy birthday in Italian and English.

Afterwards, we played on the playground for a really long time.

After the other kids left, I rented go-karts with my friend Eve and we rode around the park.

On the playground after the party with my friends Anna, Darcy, and Eve

It was one of my most fun birthday parties. And whenever I come back to visit Rome, I will always remember that I had a birthday party in the Villa Borghese!

– Nell

Riding a go-kart through Villa Borghese.